How you might be making your child's concussion worse

A new study found most parents rely on outdated and popular misconceptions about concussion treatments that could actually make a child’s concussion symptoms worse.

In an age of increased concussion awareness, the poll released Tuesday by UCLA Health suggests that well-meaning parents may go too far in restricting the activities of a child with a concussion, hampering the brain’s healing process and stymying recovery.

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“In the past, there was often a tendency to downplay the significance of concussions,” said Christopher Giza, a pediatric neurologist at UCLA. “Now some parents go too far the other direction and, despite their best intentions, they can inadvertently complicate their child’s recovery.”

More than three-quarters of parents nationwide said they would likely wake up a child with a concussion multiple times throughout night to check up on him or her. Doing that, though, actually slows healing in the brain, Giza said.

“Their headache is going to be worse. Their memory’s going to be worse. Their mood’s going to be worse," he said. "All those things that we monitor for concussion will get worse if we don’t let them sleep.”

A vast majority of parents, 84%, said they would also likely restrict their child from any physical activity after a concussion.

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Yet some light physical activity outdoors — jogging around a park or walking the dog — actually helps a recovering child, providing fresh air and encouraging a sense of normalcy, Giza said.

The survey also asked whether parents would likely take away a child’s smartphone or restrict their use of social media while concussion symptoms persisted. Most, 64%, said yes.

But isolating a child in recovery from ways to connect with friends can cause a sense of isolation in children, according to UCLA Health, making depression, anxiety and loss of appetite more likely.

Giza urges parents to find "the sweet spot for that level of activity that doesn’t make their symptoms tremendously worse but reassures them and moves them along the path to normalcy."

The nationwide poll surveyed 569 parents on how they would care for a child with concussion symptoms lasting more than a week.

The survey comes amid increased attention to the risks posed by concussions in contact sports, especially among youth.

Some youth leagues have already responded to the scrutiny, including Pop Warner football, which eliminated kickoffs in games for children 5 to 10 years old.

Children under 12 who take repeated blows to the head while playing football could be more likely to develop CTE, the degenerative disease of the brain with symptoms such as memory loss, aggression and depression, according to a study this year from the Boston University School of Medicine.

And 100% of parents surveyed by the youth sports organization i9 Sports said they were “affected in some way by concussions,” the organization said this summer. Fifty-five percent said there wasn’t enough concern about concussion risks in youth sports.


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